Chapter 340: The growing number of searching mice
Rikudou sensed an unpleasant presence from the royal castle, as if there were winged insects flying around.
“… Vandalieu and his minions. Have they noticed that I am hiding here? No, they have not found any definitive proof yet.”
Rikudou believed that if they had definitive proof of his presence here, they would be taking more direct action rather than just investigating.
He had ordered Tercatanis to deceive Vandalieu with false information by showing the other nobles a shield and sword that he had made himself using fragments of the Demon King.
This situation was the result of the success of this false information.
Perhaps it was strange for him to consider it a success, given that the enemy had sent his minions to investigate. However, Rikudou had expected Vandalieu to be wary of him to begin with.
Rikudou had been defeated in the battle in Origin, but his soul had not been devoured, and he had managed to escape. There was no way that Vandalieu wouldn’t have expected that Rodcorte would make some adjustments to him and send him to Lambda.
Urgen Tercatanis had suddenly started collecting fragments of the Demon King – gathering them into his own possession, not the possession of the Church. Rikudou had predicted that Vandalieu would link this to his presence in this world.
“For now, it seems that Vandalieu is just sniffing around Tercatanis. But knowing him, he won’t settle for striking down the pawn. He’ll try to directly strike down the mastermind behind him… me.”
Unlike Origin, he had a limited number of people working for him in this world, so losing Tercatanis would be a painful blow. But even so, he had already acquired a new body and completed his reincarnation.
If Tercatanis were to be killed, his soul would spit out all the information he knew. This would be a fatal blow to Rikudou, as he would be forced to put all his strength into fleeing this place before his preparations were complete.
However, Rikudou had investigated Vandalieu from Rodcorte’s Divine Realm. From that, he had deduced that Vandalieu was unlikely to kill Tercatanis unless the situation became urgent.
Vandalieu would be wary and afraid of the possibility of Rikudou going berserk if he was driven into a corner, which would cause the people of the Orbaume Kingdom to get caught up in the battle.
“Vandalieu would never even dream that I have full control over fragments of Guduranis’s soul and have reincarnated in a body created with fragments of the Demon King. But I’m sure he suspects that I would only choose to be reincarnated in this world because I have some chance of victory, with additional power beyond ‘Arch-Avalon.’”
Indeed, Rikudou would never have wanted to be reincarnated in Lambda if he had no hope of victory. A lifetime of fleeing to the furthest corners of the world, living in constant fear of being destroyed by Vandalieu, would be nothing more than torture.
That was precisely why Rikudou had secured a chance for victory. He had taken a gamble, exposing himself to danger by absorbing fragments of Guduranis’s soul, but he had won that gamble.
And he believed that Vandalieu would be wary and cautious, knowing that he would not be able to defeat Rikudou so easily like last time.
These thoughts were the result of his own caution towards Vandalieu, who had destroyed his ambitions and ended his life in Origin. But even more than that, it was the result of Rikudou wanting to think more highly of himself.
Vandalieu had defeated Rikudou once before, but now that Rikudou was making his move again, he wanted to believe that Vandalieu would still consider him to be a great threat.
Rikudou believed that he had evolved from a lowly, common human to a being who could rule the world, and his swollen pride would not shrink again despite having died once.
“But there’s a limit to how much time I can buy. I must hurry and make this body completely mine…” Rikudou murmured, clenching his fist as if to test his body’s condition.
Suddenly, monsters resembling Orcs and Minotaurs appeared behind him, squealing and roaring.
These monsters were clearly powerful, each being at least Rank 10, and they swung their weapons down towards Rikudou’s defenseless back.
But in the next moment, they made noises of surprise as their weapons shattered. Parts of their bodies vanished; it was as if holes had been gouged out of their heads and chests.
They made gurgling sounds as their blood and brain matter scattered across the ground. As if drawn by the scent, even more monsters appeared. Their Ranks were equal to or greater than the monsters that Rikudou had just defeated.
There were hundreds of them, all surrounding Rikudou. They weren’t fighting against one another; they were simply directing a frenzied ferociousness towards Rikudou.
It was a situation where A-class adventurers would have to prepare for their deaths, and even S-class adventurers would have to prepare themselves for a struggle to survive. But Rikudou didn’t show the slightest trace of fear.
“It’s the perfect time for this,” Rikudou murmured.
He extended tentacle-like appendages from his back and shoulders, as naturally as if he were stretching his arms.
The monsters roared as they attempted to kill Rikudou with their claws, fangs, weapons, flames, ice, lightning attacks, and shockwaves.
There were numerous dying screams. But Rikudou was still standing in the same spot.
“I have become able to use the fragments of the Demon King to a reasonable extent. At the very least, using them is no different from moving my arms and legs… though my arms and legs are made of Demon King fragments as well.”
He was learning at a reasonable pace – learning how to use the fragments of the Demon King and adapting to this body that was different from both that of a human and from Arch-Avalon.
When people and monsters of this world used the fragments of the Demon King, they acquired the ‘Demon King Encroachment’ Skill as their minds were gradually taken over, but that wasn’t happening to Rikudou. That was likely because he had absorbed fragments of the Demon King’s soul – the Demon King’s instinct and the Demon King’s memories.
“And my own mind is unaffected… or not quite, I should say. In the past, I would never have even imagined I would be eating a diet like this,” Rikudou muttered.
Ever since his reincarnation, he had eaten nothing but monsters – and he had been eating them alive, melting their flesh, organs and even their bones, then slurping them up and leaving nothing behind.
Rikudou had lived as a civilized person in Origin, but this way of eating was abnormal even to the people of this world, who often consumed monster meat as food.
But Rikudou felt no disgust about this… In fact, he hadn’t even been aware of it until now. Only now, contemplating whether his mind had been affected by the fragments of the Demon King, had he realized how strange it was.
He had been killing and devouring monsters as naturally as eating food off a plate.
“I suppose I have been influenced by my body after all. What do you lot think?”
He was surrounded only by the weapons that the monsters had been using; there wasn’t a single living thing around him anymore, and he seemed to be speaking in vain.
But a voice answered.
“I don’t think it’s a problem, Rikudou-san,” said the ‘Shaman’ Moriya Kousuke. “It is only natural for changes to the body to influence the mind. You wouldn’t be able to make full use of a body made from fragments of the Demon King if your senses were still that of a human.”
But the outline of Moriya’s figure was blurred, and he was semi-transparent. He didn’t physically exist.
He had not been reincarnated; he was a mere Ghost that had followed Rikudou when he descended upon this world.
The ‘Artemis’ Katherine Miller, the ‘Ares’ Sugiura Nanaya, the ‘Sleipnir’ Nishikaga Yoshihiko, the ‘Balor’ Johnny Yamaoka, and his other subordinates were with him as well… though the ‘Copy’ Iguchi Takeo was like a humanoid-shaped mist whose face couldn’t be seen, as his soul had been damaged by Vandalieu… or rather, by Banda, his split entity.
They were bound to Rikudou as Ghosts without being reincarnated because they wanted to aid him. Even if they were reincarnated as people in this world, it would have been difficult for them to become stronger than they had been in their previous lives within a short period of time, and it was possible that the tracks they left behind might cause Vandalieu to detect their presence.
With that being the case, they had thought it would be better for them to become Ghosts for Rikudou to use with ‘Dead Spirit Magic.’
The ‘Sahadeva’ Da Long had remained behind in Rodcorte’s Divine Realm in order to ensure that information could be smoothly relayed to Rikudou.
“I see. You know me quite well, so I can trust you. I shall be relying on you in the future, too,” Rikudou said to them. “After lunch, I would like to do some magic training and development, but… it’s troublesome that even Dungeons need time for strong monsters to respawn.”
Rikudou was currently inside a Dungeon that he had created himself beneath the royal castle. Perhaps because he possessed fragments of the soul of the Demon King Guduranis, he had been able to create a regular Dungeon, unlike Vandalieu – though he wasn’t able to control the monsters that were born inside it.
The fragments of the Demon King recognized Rikudou as the Demon King, but all monsters born inside the Dungeon were fiercely hostile towards him, sensing that he was some foreign invader, so they attacked him and tried to kill him – as had happened just moments earlier.
Rikudou felt a slight sense that something was wrong. Monsters would normally have their souls reincarnated by the Demon King’s circle of transmigration system, which Guduranis had built by imitating Rodcorte’s system.
But Rikudou was not Guduranis, nor was he an evil god that was one of Guduranis’s subordinates. However, monsters spawned inside the Dungeon he had created without any problems. He had checked and confirmed that they did indeed have souls in them.
So then, where were the souls residing in these monsters coming from, and where did they return to after they died? Rikudou had placed twofold and threefold layers at the Dungeons entrance so that spirits couldn’t enter or leave in order to prevent his presence here becoming known by Vandalieu that way. Thus, it was impossible that any spirits from the outside were being reincarnated in these monsters.
However, Rikudou had quickly shrugged this off as unimportant and stopped thinking about it.
Perhaps the Demon King’s circle of transmigration system was unintentionally taking action because he possessed fragments of the soul of the Demon King Guduranis. Or perhaps the Demon King’s circle of transmigration system was set up to automatically supply souls to monsters that spawned in Dungeons.
Either way, Rikudou had concluded that getting to the bottom of this matter did not take priority over making himself stronger, as he would need to defeat the formidable enemy that was Vandalieu, and he might even need to fight against Alda and his forces afterwards.
He had thought to use these monsters as pawns to supplement his fighting strength like the experimental subjects in Origin, but he had quickly written that off as a foolish idea. Just like what had happened in his previous life, they would either join Vandalieu or be killed and then join Vandalieu as Undead.
He wasn’t aware that the monsters spawned by Dungeons created by Vandalieu were no more than living, soulless puppets. Thus, he didn’t realize how strange the monsters spawned by the Dungeon he had created were.
“But I suppose I need numbers. If I could use the potential heroes being nurtured by Alda and his gods, Mao and Gotouda who have already been reincarnated, and the soldiers of Orbaume as my pawns, they would be of some use – especially soldiers that don’t know anything. Vandalieu would hesitate to kill them,” Rikudou murmured.
Even soldiers who knew nothing about the situation would be of some use if Rikudou were to provide them with weapons. But given how the council had turned out the other day, that would be difficult. With Tercatanis’s cooperation, and some time and effort, he would probably be able to prepare a group of soldiers or two. But that would be pointless, as the reward was far too little for the time, effort, and labor that it would require.
“The Status System. When I first heard about it, I thought it was like something from a video game, but… now that I’m the only one without its blessings, I feel a little left out,” Rikudou muttered as he headed further into the Dungeon.
The mice that had snuck into the royal palace of Orbaume scurried about in unseen corners, above the ceilings, and beneath the floors as they gathered information.
Gufadgarn’s magic had expanded the space above the ceiling of a certain room in the royal castle, and Vandalieu and his companions were using it as their forward base for infiltrating the castle.
A Demon King Familiar made monotone squeaking noises.
Yomotsushikome, which were split entities created by Legion’s Izanami, made hoarse screeches, apparently imitating mice.
There were Mouse Demons making ordinary mouse-like squeaks.
Bone Man, who had been a mouse before becoming an Undead, made mouse-like noises that sounded like ‘jyuooh.’
There were real mice as well, who were squeaking normally.
All of them were competing to see who could be the most mouse-like.
“As expected of the great Vandalieu. No matter the situation, you are always composed,” Gufadgarn remarked.
“I mean, it’s just that I had a little free time, so I decided to pretend to be a mouse,” the Demon King Familiar said.
Was this a contest to determine the number one mouse?
The Demon King Familiars’ heads had a single large eyeball and insect-like antennae, and their feet had suction cups like those of a frog. Yomotsushikome had no skin, which left their muscle fibers exposed. As for Bone Man, he hadn’t made any effort to disguise himself at all, which made his accurate mouse-like squeaking rather pointless. He would undoubtedly be disqualified based on his appearance alone.
Mouse Demons looked exactly like mice except for the small horns growing from their heads and their blood-red eyes, so they were the closest to actual mice.
“First place goes to my new friend, Tadano Nezumi-san,” said Vandalieu.
“Unfortunate. Yomotsushikome don’t have skin, after all,” Izanami lamented.
“As a former mouse, I am vexed by my defeat, but I shall give due praise to the victor,” said Bone Man.
The mouse named Tadano squeaked happily as he stuck his head into a soup bowl filled with the prize for first place – Vandalieu’s flesh and blood. More mice – perhaps friends from his pack or his family members – joined in on drinking the blood, along with the Mouse Demons and smaller mice.
Everyone watched as if this were a heartwarming scene. One of them had been a participant in the contest, but nobody was concerned about the little details.
One might wonder if they had the time to be doing something like this when they were supposed to be looking into Urgen Tercatanis’s plot and finding information about Rikudou, who was likely manipulating him from the shadows, but they did indeed have plenty of time.
Vandalieu was currently refraining from using forceful methods to gather information… such as abducting those who seemed like they knew things and then torturing or brainwashing them.
Instead, he and his companions were disguising themselves as mice and sneaking into every room in the castle to listen for information, and Braga and the others were stealing documents.
Vandalieu was also abducting targets and questioning them in a gentle manner. He was using drugs with no addictive properties and no side-effects to knock people unconscious and abduct them. After questioning them, he would release them at their original location before the drug wore off.
Thus, he had a surplus of manpower.
The royal castle was large, but it had a finite number of rooms and a finite number of targets to listen to for information. It wasn’t entirely meaningless to have multiple mice sneak into the same room, but more than a dozen mice per room would be excessive.
The documents being stolen were shown to one of the Demon King Familiars, which were split entities of Vandalieu, and he would memorize them perfectly without getting a single character wrong due to the ‘Perfect Record Technique’ Skill.
Making copies of the documents could be done by the Demon King Familiars as well, so there was no problem with this.
The drugs were being compounded by the director of the Hospital of Psychotherapy, who was taking some time off because his patients stopped being patients in more ways than one, so everything was going smoothly.
But even so, the information gathering was not going so smoothly. Vandalieu had already acquired dozens of pieces of evidence of nobles’ corruption and information on the dark side of the Orbaume Kingdom that had been buried in history. But he hadn’t seen a shadow of Rikudou Hijiri, nor had he gained any information about his relationship with Prime Minister Tercatanis, what he was plotting, and where he was.
“I wonder where Rikudou is?” Vandalieu wondered.
“We found evidence of Tercatanis gathering fragments of the Demon King and Demon King equipment so easily, too. Well, this is a copy, though,” said Izanami.
She was one of Legion’s personalities and had the appearance of someone with an age that made it difficult to decide whether to call her a beautiful girl or a beautiful woman. Her bangs were all cut to the same length, forming a straight line across her forehead, like the hair of a traditional Japanese doll.
She tore off her thumb and threw it onto the floor.
Her severed thumb snarled as it transformed into a Yomotsushikome, a hideous, monkey-like beast the size of a large rat.
In her previous life, these had been ferocious beasts that even Izanami herself had no control over, other than preventing them from attacking her or her allies.
Naturally, such beasts would be completely incapable of gathering information.
But in the blink of an eye, Izanami transformed into Isis, a beautiful, dark-skinned girl with an exotic air about her, who stamped on the Yomotsushikome to trap it beneath her foot as it tried to escape.
“I’m up next. Now then, let’s get you some surgery,” she said, reaching for its head with a scalpel.
The Yomotsushikome squealed in terror.
Isis chuckled. “Alright, all done.”
With a few deft movements of her scalpel, a miniature Demon King Familiar was implanted inside it, and then Valkyrie, a beauty with a northern European appearance, took over.
“Come, my new brave warrior! Receive your battle dress and go forth to the frontline!” she commanded.
The Yomotsushikome, which had been reconstructed by Isis, gave a small screech as Valkyrie granted it its ‘battle dress’… a fur of the same color as the mice. With its reconstruction finished, the Yomotsushikome went to line up with the other completed Yomotsushikome, awaiting its orders.
“King, would it be bad to ask Tercatanis directly?” asked Braga.
“That would likely be the fastest way to do things, but Rikudou would probably take notice. I want to avoid that at this stage, given that we haven’t found any information about him yet,” said a Demon King Familiar.
All the circumstantial evidence pointed at a connection between Rikudou and Prime Minister Tercatanis. Vandalieu had looked through the documents, but as expected, there wasn’t a single record of Urgen Tercatanis conducting research on the fragments of the Demon Kings. And yet, the prime minister had suddenly gathered fragments of the Demon King, then displayed equipment made from Demon King fragments to the nobles at the council that had taken place a few days ago.
Naturally, the craftsmen and alchemists that he had mentioned when explaining the equipment to Hadros and the other nobles didn’t exist. Vandalieu had already investigated not only the Tercatanis mansion, but all facilities owned by the Tercatanis house as well. There wasn’t a single arms smith among his vassals, and no alchemists had entered or left the castle.
With that being the case, the only conclusion was that Tercatanis was acting on someone’s orders… someone who wasn’t a noble or merchant, and someone who wasn’t from a criminal organization or a Vampire organization that worshiped an evil god, as such Vampire organizations were already at death’s door.
That greatly limited the possibilities as to who that ‘someone’ could be. It was either Alda, the God of Law and Fate, or a Rikudou Hijiri who was backed by Rodcorte. In either case, they would be capable of sending Divine Messages to make contact with Tercatanis without leaving a trace.
But the more Vandalieu investigated the possibility of it being Alda, the more unlikely it had seemed. It was difficult to believe that Alda would have ordered Tercatanis to suggest that the army adopt weapons made from fragments of the Demon King, even as a diversion to conceal the truth.
And if Tercatanis was acting under Alda’s orders, he would have likely been bolder, declaring that his actions were the will of a god. Even if he chose to plot a conspiracy, he would have solicited help rather than doing it all on his own, or requested the cooperation of the Church. After all, even though Alda was the one giving the orders, he was a god, and it was Tercatanis who was able to act freely in the mortal world.
Thus, Vandalieu and his companions strongly suspected that Rikudou was the more likely mastermind behind this.
“My lord, perhaps Rikudou has not yet been reincarnated?” suggested Bone Man.
“What?! Are you saying that all of this searching we have been doing has been for naught?!” Valkyrie exclaimed.
“Valkyrie, your voice is too loud. You gave me a fright,” said Braga.
“My magic cuts off vibrations, so sound from within this room will not escape outside. However, it is inadvisable to become complacent,” Gufadgarn warned.
Valkyrie gasped. “I apologize for that!” she shouted while whispering.
“You’ve learned to shout quietly and be more discrete, haven’t you, Valkyrie?” a Demon King Familiar remarked. “In any case, I’m sure Rikudou has already been reincarnated. After all, it’s probably he who gave Prime Minister Tercatanis the equipment made from fragments of the Demon King.”
“I see. That is true. But if this assumption is correct, then Rikudou Hijiri has either been infested by fragments of the Demon King, or the equipment was made from materials created by Demon King equipment,” said Bone Man. “Perhaps it is the latter after all?”
“Even though the one named Rikudou Hijiri possesses an affinity for death-attribute magic, just like the great Vandalieu, I believe it unlikely that he can do what the great Vandalieu does. I also believe the latter is the case,” Gufadgarn agreed.
If he had made the fragments of the Demon King infest his body, the fragments would have gradually taken over his mind. Thus, Bone Man and Gufadgarn suspected that he had used pieces of Demon King equipment, which were of no danger as long as their seals were intact.
“But if Rikudou hasn’t had his body infested, then the fragments of the Demon King gathered by Tercatanis should still have their seals intact!” Valkyrie said, still shouting quietly.
The Demon King Familiars nodded. “Leaving aside the matter of whether Rikudou has had the fragments of the Demon King infest his body… It’s likely that he’s holed up in a hidden chamber or a space created through space attribute magic, some new death-attribute spell he’s developed, or some kind of cheat-like ability. It’s possible that he’s created a Dungeon and physically sealed its entrance by disguising it as a wall, or something along those lines.”
“I see. So that’s why you’re trying to transform the mice – to have numbers on your side.”
“Well, that’s one of the reasons. The intuition of wild animals may be of use, after all.”
The mice, who had filled their bellies with Vandalieu’s flesh and blood, raised their faces from the soup bowl and began squeaking.
Their size, face, color, weight, and exterior appearance remained no different from ordinary mice.
“Their appearances haven’t changed, but they’re monsters,” a Demon King Familiar said.
“Normally, monsters grow bigger. Small monsters are weak. Monsters that are small but smart are rare,” said Braga.
“For now, let’s call these little demon mice… Imp Mice,” the Demon King Familiar said. “Now then, let’s search the castle.”
The Imp Mice squeaked as they dispersed throughout the castle to look for Rikudou Hijiri.